The state should ensure that special education teachers know the subject matter they will be required to teach.
Regrettably, Illinois only offers a K-12 special education certification.
Illinois Administrative Code 23 IAC 27.35
End licensure practices that fail to distinguish between the skills and knowledge needed to teach elementary grades and secondary grades.
It is virtually impossible and certainly impractical for Illinois to ensure that a K-12 special education teacher knows all the subject matter he or she is expected to be able to teach, especially considering state and federal expectations that special education students should meet the same high standards as other students. While the broad K-12 umbrella may be appropriate for teachers of low-incidence special education students, such as those with severe cognitive disabilities, it is deeply problematic for the overwhelming majority of high-incidence special education students, who are expected to learn grade-level content.
Provide a broad liberal arts program of study to elementary special education candidates, and require that they pass the same content test as general education teachers.
Illinois should ensure that special education teacher candidates who will teach elementary grades possess knowledge of the subject matter at hand. Not only should the state require core-subject coursework relevant to the elementary classroom, but it should also require that these candidates pass the same subject-matter test required of all elementary teachers. Failure to ensure that teachers possess requisite content knowledge deprives special education students of the opportunity to reach their academic potential.
Ensure that secondary special education teacher candidates graduate with highly qualified status in at least two subjects, and customize a HOUSSE route so that they can achieve highly qualified status in all subjects they plan to teach.
To make secondary special education teacher candidates more flexible and better able to serve schools and students, Illinois should use a combination of coursework and testing to ensure that they graduate with highly qualified status in two core academic areas. A customized HOUSSE route can also help new secondary special education teacher candidates to become highly qualified in multiple subjects by offering efficient means by which they could gain broad overviews of specific areas of content knowledge, such as content-driven university courses. Such a route is specifically permitted in the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Illinois recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state added that its HOUSSE route does contain requirements for teachers to become highly qualified. Illinois also noted that special education is the next area it will begin to redefine.
Although Illinois allows its new secondary special education teachers to use the HOUSSE route to gain highly qualified status in multiple subjects, the state has not yet phased out the use of its HOUSSE route for veteran teachers. Illinois is, therefore, encouraged to create a HOUSSE route specifically for new secondary special education teachers; IDEA specifically permits the use of HOUSSE in this way. Ideally these teachers will have graduated with highly qualified status in two core areas, but the state should also provide a practical and meaningful way for these teachers to achieve highly qualified status in all remaining core subjects once they are in the classroom.